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Diabetic Ulcers Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Vincent Lopez Rowe, MD; Chief Editor: Romesh Khardori, MD, PhD, FACP  more...
 
Updated: Jul 08, 2016
 

History

The history should focus on symptoms indicative of possible peripheral neuropathy or peripheral arterial insufficiency.

Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy

The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include the following:

  • Hypesthesia
  • Hyperesthesia
  • Paresthesia
  • Dysesthesia
  • Radicular pain
  • Anhydrosis

Symptoms of peripheral arterial insufficiency

Most people harboring atherosclerotic disease of the lower extremities are asymptomatic; others develop ischemic symptoms. Some patients attribute ambulatory difficulties to old age and are unaware of the existence of a potentially correctible problem.

Patients who are symptomatic may present with intermittent claudication, ischemic pain at rest, nonhealing ulceration of the foot, or frank ischemia of the foot.

Cramping or fatigue of major muscle groups in one or both lower extremities that is reproducible upon walking a specific distance suggests intermittent claudication. This symptom increases with ambulation until walking is no longer possible, and it is relieved by resting for several minutes. The onset of claudication may occur sooner with more rapid walking or walking uphill or up stairs.

The claudication of infrainguinal occlusive disease typically involves the calf muscles. Discomfort, cramping, or weakness in the calves or feet is particularly common in the diabetic population because they tend to have tibioperoneal atherosclerotic occlusions. Calf muscle atrophy may also occur. Symptoms that occur in the buttocks or thighs suggest aortoiliac occlusive disease.

Rest pain is less common in the diabetic population. In some cases, a fissure, ulcer, or other break in the integrity of the skin envelope is the first sign that loss of perfusion has occurred. When a diabetic patient presents with gangrene, it is often the result of infection.

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Physical Examination

Physical examination of the extremity having a diabetic ulcer can be divided into 3 broad categories:

  • Examination of the ulcer and the general condition of the extremity
  • Assessment of the possibility of vascular insufficiency [3]
  • Assessment for the possibility of peripheral neuropathy

Remember that diabetes is a systemic disease. Hence, a comprehensive physical examination of the entire patient is also vital.

Examination of extremity

Diabetic ulcers tend to occur in the following areas:

  • Areas most subjected to weight bearing, such as the heel, plantar metatarsal head areas, the tips of the most prominent toes (usually the first or second), and the tips of hammer toes (ulcers also occur over the malleoli because these areas commonly are subjected to trauma)
  • Areas most subjected to stress, such as the dorsal portion of hammer toes

Other physical findings include the following:

  • Hypertrophic calluses
  • Brittle nails
  • Hammer toes
  • Fissures

Assessment of possible peripheral arterial insufficiency

Physical examination discloses absent or diminished peripheral pulses below a certain level.

Although diminished common femoral artery pulsation is characteristic of aortoiliac disease, infrainguinal disease alone is characterized by normal femoral pulses at the level of the inguinal ligament and diminished or absent pulses distally. Specifically, loss of the femoral pulse just below the inguinal ligament occurs with a proximal superficial femoral artery occlusion. Loss of the popliteal artery pulse suggests superficial femoral artery occlusion, typically in the adductor canal.

Loss of pedal pulses is characteristic of disease of the distal popliteal artery or its trifurcation. However, be aware that absence of the dorsalis pedis pulse may be a normal anatomic variant that is noted in about 10% of the pediatric population. On the other hand, the posterior tibial pulse is present in 99.8% of persons aged 0-19 years. Hence, absence of both pedal pulses is a more specific indicator of peripheral arterial disease.

Other findings suggestive of atherosclerotic disease include a bruit heard overlying the iliac or femoral arteries, skin atrophy, loss of pedal hair growth, cyanosis of the toes, ulceration or ischemic necrosis, and pallor of the involved foot followed by dependent rubor after 1-2 minutes of elevation above heart level.

Assessment of possible peripheral neuropathy

Signs of peripheral neuropathy include loss of vibratory and position sense, loss of deep tendon reflexes (especially loss of the ankle jerk), trophic ulceration, foot drop, muscle atrophy, and excessive callous formation, especially overlying pressure points such as the heel.

The nylon monofilament test helps diagnose the presence of sensory neuropathy.[18] A 10-gauge monofilament nylon is pressed against each specific site of the foot just enough to bend the wire. If the patient does not feel the wire at 4 or more of these 10 sites, the test is positive for neuropathy. General use filaments can be obtained from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, or the clinician can use professional Semmes-Weinstein filaments.

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Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Vincent Lopez Rowe, MD Professor of Surgery, Program Director, Vascular Surgery Residency, Department of Surgery, Division of Vascular Surgery, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California

Vincent Lopez Rowe, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Surgeons, American Heart Association, Society for Vascular Surgery, Vascular and Endovascular Surgery Society, Society for Clinical Vascular Surgery, Pacific Coast Surgical Association, Western Vascular Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Romesh Khardori, MD, PhD, FACP Professor of Endocrinology, Director of Training Program, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, Strelitz Diabetes and Endocrine Disorders Institute, Department of Internal Medicine, Eastern Virginia Medical School

Romesh Khardori, MD, PhD, FACP is a member of the following medical societies: American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American College of Physicians, American Diabetes Association, Endocrine Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Acknowledgements

Jeffrey Lawrence Kaufman, MD Associate Professor, Department of Surgery, Division of Vascular Surgery, Tufts University School of Medicine

Jeffrey Lawrence Kaufman, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American College of Surgeons, American Society for Artificial Internal Organs, Association for Academic Surgery, Association for Surgical Education, Massachusetts Medical Society, Phi Beta Kappa, and Society for Vascular Surgery

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Medscape Salary Employment

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Charcot deformity with mal perforans ulcer of plantar midfoot.
Table. Characteristics and Uses of Wound Dressing Materials
Category Examples Description Applications
Alginate AlgiSite



Comfeel



Curasorb



Kaltogel



Kaltostat



Sorbsan



Tegagel



This seaweed extract contains guluronic and mannuronic acids that provide tensile strength and calcium and sodium alginates, which confer an absorptive capacity. Some of these can leave fibers in the wound if they are not thoroughly irrigated. These are secured with secondary coverage. These are highly absorbent and useful for wounds having copious exudate. Alginate rope is particularly useful to pack exudative wound cavities or sinus tracts.
Hydrofiber Aquacel



Aquacel-Ag



Versiva



An absorptive textile fiber pad, also available as a ribbon for packing of deep wounds. This material is covered with a secondary dressing. The hydrofiber combines with wound exudate to produce a hydrophilic gel. Aquacel-Ag contains 1.2% ionic silver that has strong antimicrobial properties against many organisms, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus. These are absorbent dressings used for exudative wounds.
Debriding agents Hypergel (hypertonic saline gel)



Santyl (collagenase)



Accuzyme (papain urea)



Various products provide some degree of chemical or enzymatic debridement. These are useful for necrotic wounds as an adjunct to surgical debridement.
Foam LYOfoam



Spyrosorb



Allevyn



Polyurethane foam has some absorptive capacity. These are useful for cleaning granulating wounds having minimal exudate.
Hydrocolloid Aquacel



CombiDERM



Comfeel



Duoderm CGF Extra Thin



Granuflex



Tegasorb



These are made of microgranular suspension of natural or synthetic polymers, such as gelatin or pectin, in an adhesive matrix. The granules change from a semihydrated state to a gel as the wound exudate is absorbed. They are useful for dry necrotic wounds, wounds having minimal exudate, and clean granulating wounds.
Hydrogel Aquasorb



Duoderm



IntraSite Gel



Granugel



Normlgel



Nu-Gel



Purilon Gel



(KY jelly)



These are water-based or glycerin-based semipermeable hydrophilic polymers; cooling properties may decrease wound pain. These gels can lose or absorb water depending upon the state of hydration of the wound. They are secured with secondary covering. These are useful for dry, sloughy, necrotic wounds (eschar).
Low-adherence dressing Mepore



Skintact



Release



These are various materials designed to remove easily without damaging underlying skin. These are useful for acute minor wounds, such as skin tears, or as a final dressing for chronic wounds that have nearly healed.
Transparent film OpSite



Skintact



Release



Tegaderm



Bioclusive



These are highly conformable acrylic adhesive film having no absorptive capacity and little hydrating ability, and they may be vapor permeable or perforated. These are useful for clean dry wounds having minimal exudate, and they also are used to secure an underlying absorptive material. They are used for protection of high-friction areas and areas that are difficult to bandage such as heels (also used to secure IV catheters).
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